The Art of Spontaneity
This may sound like a contradiction, but I've always found that spontaneity works best when you are magnificently prepared. The thermos flask that delivers steaming hot tea after a wintry walk, or the bottle of perfectly chilled bubbles that's whipped out to toast an unforeseen celebration, can seem like heaven-sent succour. But in the absence of a magic wand, all that's required is the tiniest bit of pre-planning.
Over the years, I've honed a few shortcuts to creating such 'Ta da' moments. First and foremost, liquid refreshments:
- Keep a box in your car boot stocked with enamel (ie: indestructible) mugs, as well as teabags, hot chocolate and instant coffee (I'm not usually a fan, but there are times that even this is a welcome caffeine fix). I often supplement my supplies with a tin of marshmallows and a packet of those devilishly delicious Dutch caramel waffles, which rarely last long enough to go off. Then all you need do, as you run out the door on a hastily planned outing, is fill a thermos with boiling water and pick up some milk. A brief note that will enhance this experience: reserve a thermos for hot water only - so that it doesn't become stained with tea tannins, and only needs a quick rinse after each use.
- A hip flask, filled with something strong, sweet and warming (damson vodka or sloe gin are delicious choices), is also a useful accessory to most outdoor adventures.
- Keeping a bottle of white wine and/or champagne (or similar) in the fridge is a no-brainer, as is a bottle of vodka in the freezer for mixing something more potent. But it's also a good idea to keep some non-alcoholic mixers in the fridge, either to offer to non-drinking drivers, or for impromptu cocktails, with a quick injection of a suitable spirit. Ginger beer and cranberry juice are both great options that fulfil both purposes.
- Which leads me neatly on to the next essential: always have at least one fresh lime lurking about - a squeeze of juice or flourish of the zest can make all the difference to an otherwise mundane mix. Even when you're being spontaneous, it's the details that elevate the perfunctory to the fabulous!
Now for the food: you need enough decent store-cupboard ingredients to throw together more than just a sandwich for any friends who drop in for a cup of tea and stay for supper.
- Foolproof store-cupboard / fridge ingredients for a speedy supper include: good tinned tomatoes (Italian plum tomatoes have the best flavour IMHO), anchovies, capers, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan, eggs, bacon, a pack of Halloumi cheese, dried pasta, oatcakes or other cracker-like cheese platforms, Brie and/or Stilton, and a bar of good dark chocolate. With these basics, you can whip up a flavoursome pasta puttanesca or carbonara, simple snack of fried halloumi in caper butter (serve with salad leaves if you happen to have any in the fridge) or battered halloumi sticks, a basic cheese platter, omelette, and instant dessert (break your chocolate slab up into bite-sized pieces, or melt it and dip in any fruit you have to hand).
- For al fresco feasting, it's useful to keep one of those ready-made barbecue and a box of matches in the car (skewers and tongs are a useful addition to your emergency stash). Then, if your day at the beach stretches into the evening, all you need do is supplement with a pack of sausages (easy to find at even the smallest local store) and whatever version of bread you can lay your hands on and, Ta da, supper.
And there you have it, all the ingredients you need to be instantly spontanteous!
Last updated 16:12 on 9 January 2019